Bay area couple left in Turkey by cruise line after husband breaks hip now in desperate situation

TAMPA BAY - An overseas vacation cruise has turned into a horrific nightmare for a Tampa Bay area couple who now find themselves stranded in Turkey in a desperate situation.

Dodge Melkonian's wife, Jill, said her husband fell and broke his hip on a cruise ship owned by Royal Cribbean. Now, they are facing a life-threatening medical emergency.

Jill Melkonian spoke to ABC Action News from Turkey and said she is heartbroken. Worse, she is afraid for her husband's life. She feels they are abandoned in a foreign country where she doesn't even speak the language.

The couple loves taking cruises.  They have been on nearly 30.

On their last trip in April, they said their cruise ship was damaged by fire.

As a consolation, Royal Caribbean offered them a free trip.  They went on an Azamara Cruiseline, owned by Royal Caribbean, through Turkey. They never imagined bad luck would strike again.

"Dodge got up and he fell. He basically broke his hip and I don't know if he would have survived," Jill said.

She praised the doctors on board, but questioned the people in charge.

"I think Royal Caribbean needs to be held accountable," Jill said.  "They have to revamp policies for international accounts."

She said the ship's crew left them at a hospital in Bartin, Turkey, where no one speaks English. Because of strict cultural rules, women are not allowed inside the facility.

"The hospital was so dirty and I  was worried about infection," she said, adding that she bought insurance through the cruise line in an effort to get her husband transferred.

She said the cruise line told her to file a claim first.  Desperate, she reached out to the owner of her travel agency. Tammy Levent of Elite Travel said she has not been able to sleep because of the couple's ordeal.

"The man could be dying.  He is 89-years old with a broken hip," Levent said. "You have insurance. Shouldn't it cover you? They drop you in a hospital that's not capable of even doing the surgery."

Levent managed to reach an English speaking tour guide, Okan Kutla with Turkey Tourist Specialist, Levent said. She has used the tour services in Turkey before.

Levent said Kutlu has been a savior. He called the US Embassy and obtained help in transferring Dodge from Bartin to Istanbul, which is a six-hour trip.

Jill said they once again reached out to the cruise line.

"He (Kutlu) tried to arrange transport yesterday, but Royal Caribbean insurance company told them to cancel it," she said.

ABC Action News took the Melkonians' plight to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

"Royal Caribbean has a responsibility to take care of their passengers, even when they have to put them in a foreign hospital," Nelson said. His office reached out to the family. A spokesperson from Nelson's office told Action News they contacted the embassy to make sure the family is cared for.

Now, Levent says the family has more problems. Dodge needs blood for surgery. The tour guide was a match and donated his own blood. Levent hopes it is enough.

She is concerned that the nightmare is not over. "How are we going to get him back? Are we going to wait until he does rehab in Turkey for six months in Turkey?" Levent asked.

ABC Action News called and e-mailed Royal Caribbean Cruises numerous times, but has not received a response.


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